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Soon to be against the law, but companies are lining up to pay for political access

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Labor and the LNP are running cash-for-access programs while they still can – raking in tens of thousands of dollars in the process, writes Sean Parnell.

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After the Palaszczuk government won a third term, the Labor Party enjoyed a steady stream of ‘donations’ from businesses hoping to have a seat at the table. That is despite such relationships being criticised by integrity experts including former corruption inquiry chief Tony Fitzgerald.

Electoral Commission of Queensland disclosures shed some light on the exclusive networking programs, revealing mining, finance, technology and other companies who have made five figure contributions to party coffers in the hope they will have better access to ministers.

Such events are notoriously secretive but usually involve ministers giving speeches and agreeing to one-on-one meetings with companies who may be active in their portfolio. Usually, but not always, these meetings are recorded in ministerial diaries, although what was discussed is a closely guarded secret.

Since the election, Labor has signed up at least 10 corporate members for its Queensland Business Partnership Network. ECQ disclosures suggest $11,000 memberships have been inked with Tabcorp, the Finance Brokers Association of Australia, JJ Richards and Sons, Kuhn Corp Print, Propero Technology, cloud database provider iseek and computer security company Riot Solutions, while Initiative Capital, Insurance Australia Group, business consultants GWI and Energy Development Limited took half memberships at $5,500 each.

The Liberal National Party has its own networking program, Q Forum, and appears to have so far signed up consultants PWC, labour hire company Workpac, lobbyists Govstrat, salary packaging company Remserv, and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association on $5,500 memberships.

Former Labor premier Anna Bligh banned cash-for-access schemes, while other premiers have distanced themselves from it. However, Fitzgerald at one point warned that it was fertile ground for misconduct and even corruption.

“Access can now be purchased, patronage is dispensed, mates and supporters are appointed and retired politicians exploit their political connections to obtain success fees for deals between business and government,” Fitzgerald said.

The Palaszczuk government has pushed through electoral reforms, most notably the ban on developer donations that short-changed the LNP, and will effectively ban cash-for-access programs in 2022 when new donation caps come into force.

The individual donation caps of $10,000 per term and associated increase in public funding of electoral candidates will alter the nature of donor-party relations. Party sources told InQueensland the fate of networking programs, and whether they might be kept in some form, had yet to be resolved.

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